Money Matters: UKRG Summer Event July 2015
The Art Fund and How it Supports Museums and Galleries
Penny Bull, Senior Programmes Manager, Acquisitions, Art Fund

This talk was given during the Money Matters event at the Design Museum. The event involved talks on many different area of museum funding by people who work both for museums and with museums in a financial capacity. This talk was the only one given by a member of a body specifically designed to fund museums and was therefore a great insight into how they approach applications and how they function as an organisation. The talk was given by Penny Bull, the senior programmes manager for acquisitions for the Art Fund. She went into great detail on the acquisition side of what the Art Fund does as well as talking about other areas of work that the Art Fund supports and funds, many of which I was unaware of before this talk.

Penny started the talk by giving some background on the Art Fund. It was originally founded in 1903 as the National Art Collection Fund, as a charity aimed at stopping art leaving the country. It is funded primarily by its members and offers grants for museums and galleries to support collections in three main ways, firstly through funding acquisitions, secondly by encouraging public engagement with collections, and thirdly by supporting curatorial activities.

Penny then went on explain the types of acquisitions and projects the Art Fund supports, how to go about applying, and the process after an award has been made. The Art Fund can fund purchases of any objects considered visually interesting, as well as works of fine art, however if the Art Fund does not think your proposed acquisition falls into their remit Penny said they will often try to point you to other sources of funding so it is always worth contacting them.

In order to apply to the Art Fund the applicant must be accredited or working towards accreditation, however there are occasions when the Art Fund may consider other organisations as well if they can demonstrate that they work to the same standards as accredited museums. The organisation must have a permanent collection that is open to the public for at least half the year, for at least half the week during that time. There is no limit on the total value that can be applied for so works of both local and national significance can be considered.

There are three types of application that can be submitted to the Art Fund, “large”, “small”, and “time critical”. Acquisitions over £15,000 (of which the Art Fund could contribute £7,500) are considered large and those under that value are considered small. Time critical ones are for purchases that must happen within seven days within London and 10 days outside of London (for example where an object is being sold at auction). Trustees must view any work to be purchased which can be problematic on tight timescales.

Small requests can be made at any time and the decision will usually be made within 4-6 weeks of the application being submitted. Large grant requests must be considered at the Board of Trustees meeting meaning there are regular deadlines for applications, though these are not published. There is no limit or suggestions on how much can be applied for, however the Art Fund ask applicants to find as much money are they can from other sources, and provide evidence of what other grants or funding has been applied for. This is due to the fact that they have limited funds and of course want to help as many causes as possible.

The application for a grant must contain certain specific information. Firstly, a case must be made for the acquisition of the work, including showing how it will fit into the collection and what the museum will do to maximise exposure of the work. Next the applicant must get an independent valuation for the object by a dealer or someone with proven commercial knowledge of the market. They applicant must also look into getting tax remission or a museum discount on the purchase to obtain the best possible price. The funding package must be set out clearly stating the various sources of funding and these must total the amount needed. The final section of the application should contain provenance information and due diligence checks and condition reports for the object. The objects must also be suitable to travel as they must be present at board meetings so they can be inspected by the Trustees.

After an award is made the Art Fund require a vendors invoice to be submitted along with the accession number assigned to the object and a photograph. After a year a review must be submitted detailing what had been done with the object in the year. This should include information about any marketing or promotion that was agreed as part of the application, however if a work has been in conservation for the year (for example) that is not a problem as long as progress has been made.

As well as funding acquisitions of objects the Art Fund also funds other projects and museum work. One example of this is the new collecting awards that are given to curators who wish to build a new collection within a museum and would like funding for multiple purchases or research for the collections. Touring exhibitions are occasionally supported, but mostly only as part of the promotion for an acquisition funded by the Art Fund.

The Art Fund financially supports museums through the Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grants. These grants are awarded to curators or other museum staff to facilitate research through funding travel, books or administrative cover for time away from their usual job. They are typically £200- £2000 and can also be used to cover the associated costs of professional development opportunities such as training and networking events.

As well as funding museums directly the Art Fund has also set up a crowdfunding platform called Art Happens. The Art Fund provide the web platform and support but the individual museum must provide all the content for any funding requests.

Overall Penny’s talk was extremely useful in providing a background on how the Art Fund works, the way to approach filling in an application and the information they look for from potential applicants. It was also very interesting to see the different types of work the Art Fund supports as well as acquisitions which I have always assumed was their main focus.

I am very grateful for the bursary provided by Blackwall Green that allowed me to attend this fascinating event, and of course for the UKRG who organised the day itself.

Hazel Shorland, Assistant Registrar, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.